Imprisoned ex-PM Imran Khan appears via AI-generated rally

December 18, 2023

Pakistan AI

Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan now in prison for leaking state secrets, used AI to deliver a speech at a virtual rally. 

Khan’s speech, lasting four minutes, was constructed using an AI-generated voice, closely imitating his own. 

This audio was integrated into a video showcasing his AI-created avatar, interspersed with images from past Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) rallies (Khan’s political party) and earlier speeches. 

The AI voice, carrying a disclaimer that it was based on Khan’s notes from prison, conveyed a message of resilience and defiance against the current political constraints faced by the PTI. 

It said, “Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies. Our people are being kidnapped and their families are being harassed,” and added, “History will remember your sacrifices.” 

This refers to the intense crackdown on the PTI, which has seen numerous party leaders arrested or forced out of the organization.

Khan remains incarcerated following his indictment over allegations of leaking state secrets, charges he vehemently denies. Khan asserts that these accusations are part of a strategy by the government and the military to exclude him and his party from the upcoming elections in February.

The virtual rally, organized by the PTI, reportedly garnered over five million views on various social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. This comes days after reports out of Bangladesh cited AI fake news was spreading on social media ahead of their election today.

Deep fakes, in general, have emerged as a critical threat of AI this year, with numerous cases of AI-generated fake media spreading fraudulent content or controversial imagery, political smears, and misinformation on the Israel-Palestine war

Another case saw politically motivated AI-generated fake clips of the ex-Sudan president Omar al-Bash shared on TikTok.

Internet outages restricted the rally

The rally’s high engagement occurred despite reports of internet outages in different parts of the country, which many believed were orchestrated to hinder the online event. 

NetBlocks, an internet tracking company, confirmed these outages. Their statement read, “Metrics show major social media platforms were restricted in Pakistan for [nearly] 7 hours on Sunday evening during an online political gathering; the incident is consistent with previous instances of internet censorship targeting opposition leader Imran Khan and his party PTI.” 

Responding, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority denied any such internet disruption and called for media prudence in disseminating unverified news.

The use of AI in this context has garnered both praise and alarm. 

Usama Khilji, an advocate for free speech in Pakistan, lauded PTI’s inventive method to circumvent the ban on public rallies, told Al Jazeera, “With a full crackdown on PTI’s right to freedom of association and speech via arrests of leadership, the party’s use of artificial intelligence to broadcast a virtual speech in the words of its incarcerated chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan marks a new point in the use of technology in Pakistani politics.” 

He, however, voiced concerns about the potential negative implications of AI in the political arena, warning about the risks of its use in spreading disinformation and manipulating election outcomes. 

Khilji’s statement underscores the dual-edged nature of this form of political communication, a world first, highlighting its dangers and potential for upholding free speech. 

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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